Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why Some Conservative Presbyterians Don’t Like Liturgy - Part III

Continued from Part II

More Performance Issues

In the previous post I said that one of the chief reasons many Presbyterians don't like liturgy is that they have never experienced a liturgical service that was executed well. Presbyterian ministers don't know how to preform rituals. Part of the problem is they believe they need to be causal and cheeky with the congregation in order to be received as "authentic." As if, authenticity and ritual are antithetical.

Without being overly critical, one can learn even from the mistakes of others. Some years ago I worshipped with my family in a conservative Presbyterian church in another part of town. (Don't try to figure out which town.) The pastor was quite casual and breezy during the entire service. A number of baptisms were scheduled for that morning. When the parents of the infants brought their children forward for baptism, the pastor joined them at the font, but was visibly discombobulated. He had not memorized the names of the covenant children and he had no printed resource at hand. In order to cover his mistake, he told a few jokes about remembering names and then asked the three sets of parents the names of the children. (To be clear, this was not done according to the traditional ritual of some churches where the minister asks “What is the name of this child?” immediately before the administration of the sacrament.)

After this, he then called three elders up front (before the baptism) and had them take the children and parade them around the sanctuary while he was making comments about how cute and sweet they were. After the children were brought back up onto the stage, he baptized each of the children, having again to ask each set of parents the name of their child. After he had baptized them (without using the traditional formula, I might add), the parents were beginning to walk back to their seats when he bellowed out a hearty laugh and said,

“Oh my, I guess we forgot to have the parents take vows. Ho, ha, ha. Well, in case there are any Presbyterian sticklers here who might bring charges against me - Ho, ha, ha - I guess we should ask the parents some questions. But, whoops, I don’t seem to have a copy of the vows, so I’ll just wing it. Parents, do you all love the Lord? . . . Good. Will you promise to bring your children up faithfully? . . . Amen! Well, that about does it. Time to sing a hymn.” At which point he sat down with the congregation and the worship team led the congregation in singing “Go tell it on the mountain.”

Now, maybe you think that this is an extreme example, but I’ve been around enough to know better. When our family was home after that service and eating lunch together, even though I have a strict rule not to critique sermons, services, or churches on the Lord’s Day, especially in the service itself, my older daughters asked me, “Dad, what did you think of the service?”

I answered something like, “Well, it was not like ours. Was it?”

“No, it wasn’t,” they said.

My oldest then felt compelled to say, “You know, if I was one of those three families, I think I would have my baby re-baptized!”

With that, I broke my rule and had a very productive conversation with my children about liturgical protocols and the valuable service it rendered to God’s people. As Paul says to Timothy, “Watch yourself and teaching carefully. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).

Liturgy is not something you can just read about in a book and go do. The one who would lead God’s people into his presence needs mature guidance and a great deal of guided experience under someone skilled in the art of liturgical leadership. Some of us who have been raised in liturgical churches have a distinct advantage. Others, aware of their own deficiencies, have deliberately attached themselves to qualified pastors for mentoring during their seminary training or internship.

If you are already in the pastorate, however, there are ways to acquire adequate competence. I suggest that you use every opportunity when you are not officiating at your own congregation to visit, worship, and carefully observe qualified ministers in more liturgical communions. To this day, I continue to visit orthodox Lutheran and Episcopal churches when I am on vacation, watching, observing , learning, and critiquing their liturgical craft. If you do have some competence in these matters, spend time with ministerial candidates in your church, teaching, training, and guiding them in the fundamentals of liturgical leadership.

Continue Reading Part IV


Mr. Dad said...

I bet the babies were in a "sweat" too, but I think you meant to type "sweet." (Ho, ha, ha . . . or however it goes!)

Jeff Meyers said...

Yep, but it was sweet sweat.

JATB said...

Several years ago my wife and I were visiting a PCA church that had a reputation as being one of the "up and coming" congregations, pastored by one of the "up and coming" pastors (read: it's where all the cool kids are going). They had a sort of semi-liturgical service, with lots of Sandi-Patty-style worship music (not exactly cutting edge, not even ten years ago), and they had weekly communion. They went forward for communion and used a common cup. I got the impression that they did this because they thought it was what cool kids are supposed to do, not because they had particular convictions one way or another.

Anyway, it came time for communion, and the pastor proceeded to bless the wine. That's not a typo. Then everyone (with the exception of my wife and me) went forward to take the wine. Then they all went back to their seats and the pastor then blessed the bread. Then everyone got up AGAIN and proceeded to take the bread. Again, except for us.

It was the only time I have refrained from taking communion in a PCA church. It was actually the only time I've refrained from taking communion in ANY church, except for RC masses I've attended.

This up an coming minister is now serving one of the moving and shaking PCA churches. I hope by now he's learned not to celebrate communion backwards.

Have you ever heard of such?

Jeff Meyers said...

No, I've never heard of this. But it doesn't surprise me because ORDER and SEQUENCE means almost nothing to Presbyterians. ELEMENTS are all that count, in whatever order.